Biden speaks about gun violence as US crime surges

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 7:24 p.m. ET, June 23, 2021
4 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
2:11 p.m. ET, June 23, 2021

A look back at Biden's complicated history with crime legislation

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Kevin Liptak

Then-President Bill Clinton hugs then-Sen. Joseph Biden, in September 1994 during a signing ceremony for a crime bill at the White House.
Then-President Bill Clinton hugs then-Sen. Joseph Biden, in September 1994 during a signing ceremony for a crime bill at the White House. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

For President Biden, today's announcement on gun crime prevention is the latest chapter in his long — and politically complicated — history with crime legislation. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden helped write the 1994 crime bill, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

"A guy named Biden wrote that bill and he wrote that bill by going down and sitting down with the president of the United States of America," said Biden, crowing about the legislation during a speech on the Senate floor at the time.

In the 1990s, the tough-on-crime stance was viewed as a prized accomplishment for Biden, who warned of "predators on our streets" who were "beyond the pale."

Yet a quarter-century later, his warm embrace of Clinton during a Rose Garden signing ceremony for the 1994 crime bill stirred controversy during his 2020 presidential primary. Several candidates, including then-opponent Kamala Harris, criticized Biden for his role in the legislation, which she and other critics said led to an era of mass incarceration.

Biden dismissed such criticism from the progressive base of his party, reminding voters that the controversial crime bill at the time was supported by the Congressional Black Caucus and several of the nation's leading Black mayors. At the same time, he minimized his role in getting the law enacted, saying he was "got stuck with" the job because he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Today, the politics of crime legislation are less certain.

A movement to "Defund the Police" has lost considerable steam inside the Democratic Party, amid rising crime rates across the country. Biden has consistently been opposed to any such measures — and avoided such language — by refusing to accept the criticism from progressives during his presidential race.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement officials have begun placing greater emphasis on community intervention programs to prevent violence, a shift away from the style of policing embedded in the laws Biden helped pass.

"We have to do a better job of ... not repeating the mistakes of the past, where we think the best way to solve violent crime is to go out and arrest people for low-level offenses, creating this mass incarceration epidemic that we are trying to handle," said Chief Shon Barnes of the Madison, Wisconsin, police. "That is simply not the way to handle violent crime in America."

"I believe that we have to start partnering with other people in our community, and sometimes the police have to take a backseat and allow some of our civic groups, some of our entities within city government to take the lead and we take a supporting role. The idea is to prevent crime and not simply to respond to it," Barnes said on CNN.

While Biden's views and record on crime hardly kept him from winning the primary and general election campaigns, they now present a new test for the White House in its quest to avoid deep schisms inside the Democratic Party.

Republicans, in their effort to win control of the House and Senate next year, are already seizing on the issue of crime. Party officials believe it's one of the strongest arguments to win back suburban voters, particularly women, who abandoned the GOP in the Trump era.

"Democrats up and down the ballot have done everything in their power to subvert law enforcement," Mike Berg, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said this week. "Voters will hold Democrats accountable for their pro-crime policies."

1:49 p.m. ET, June 23, 2021

There were 10 mass shootings across the US over the weekend

From CNN's Hollie Silverman and Amir Vera

Police investigate a shooting in Anchorage, Alaska on Saturday.
Police investigate a shooting in Anchorage, Alaska on Saturday. Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News/AP

As Americans continue to come out of coronavirus isolation and states lift restrictions on gatherings, shootings continue to plague the nation, with 10 mass shootings occurring in the US since last Friday night.

Seven people were killed and at least 45 were injured in the shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). Among the victims were at least two children, a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old, police said.

The latest shootings are among a streak of deadly violent weekends the nation has seen in the past few weeks.

The prior weekend, there were also 10 mass shootings across seven states that killed 12 people and injured 57 more, data from GVA shows.

GVA reports there have been 293 mass shootings in 2021 so far.

CNN defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot, not including the shooter. A weekend is tracked from Friday afternoon through Sunday overnight.

On Saturday, four people were injured in a shooting in Newark, New Jersey, according to GVA.

Read more here.

1:43 p.m. ET, June 23, 2021

Concerns have been rising inside the White House over the surge in violent crime

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Kevin Liptak

Police officers investigate the scene of an early afternoon shooting in Olde Town Arvada on June 21, 2021 in Arvada, Colorado. 
Police officers investigate the scene of an early afternoon shooting in Olde Town Arvada on June 21, 2021 in Arvada, Colorado.  Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images

nationwide surge in violent crime has emerged as a growing area of concern inside the White House, where President Biden and his aides have listened with alarm as local authorities warn a brutal summer of killing lies ahead.

Biden plans to address the spike in shootings, armed robberies and vicious assaults on Wednesday afternoon following a meeting with state and local officials, law enforcement representatives and others involved in combating the trend.

He hopes to dampen what has already become a cudgel for Republicans eager to run a "law and order" campaign in next year's midterm elections.

The President is poised to announce a comprehensive crime reduction strategy on Wednesday, officials said, in hopes of reducing gun violence and addressing the root causes of the spike.

He plans to sign executive actions with a particular focus on tamping down gun crimes, according to officials, while again calling on Congress to take steps to enact new gun control laws. He is also set to press Congress to confirm David Chipman as his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Already, the uptick is becoming a potent political issue for a President who worked over the past two years to carefully calibrate his approach to criminal justice, resisting pressure from the left to support defunding the police while justifying his role in writing major anti-crime bills from the 1990s. Biden entered office with a mandate to his team on reducing gun violence, according to officials, and has been acutely aware that crime rates have been spiking over the past year.

Read more here.

1:46 p.m. ET, June 23, 2021

Biden will announce his gun crime prevention and public safety strategy today. Here are key things to know.

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden will announce a comprehensive strategy on violent crime prevention during remarks at 3:30 p.m. ET — with a particular emphasis on gun crimes — amid a nationwide surge in violent crime that's emerged as an area of concern for the White House.

Biden is expected to address recent spikes in shootings, armed robberies and vicious assaults when he announces the details of the crime prevention strategy Wednesday afternoon during a speech at the White House. He'll meet with state and local leaders ahead of his remarks.

Biden plans to sign executive actions with a particular focus on tamping down gun crimes, according to officials, while again calling on Congress to take steps to enact new gun control laws.

Senior administration officials also told reporters Tuesday evening that Biden's plan will rely on using American Rescue Plan dollars for more flexible applications, including hiring law enforcement above pre-pandemic levels or using the funds toward community violence intervention programs. Additionally, Biden is set to press Congress to confirm David Chipman as his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

According to the White House, Biden's "Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety" will focus on five main pillars:

  1. Stem the flow of firearms used to commit violence, including by holding rogue firearms dealers accountable for violating federal laws
  2. Support local law enforcement with federal tools and resources to help address summer violent crime
  3. Invest in evidence-based community violence interventions
  4. Expand summer programming, employment opportunities, and other services and support for teenagers and young adults
  5. Help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reenter their communities.

Read more about Biden's strategy here.